Ireland’s ammonia emissions continue to rise and exceed EU limit

Date released: Jun 04 2020

 

  • Ammonia emissions increased again in 2018, driven by expansion of the agriculture sector, and exceed current EU emissions limits.
  • Ireland is also above its emission limit for Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) since 2010, although emissions decreased slightly in 2018. 
  • Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and particulate matter (PM2.5) showed marginal changes, while emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) continued a downward trend.
  • Full implementation of the Climate Action Plan will deliver co-benefits in terms of reducing air pollutants, but even further action is required to meet more stringent 2030 EU emission limits.

4th June 2020: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today published figures for emissions of five key air pollutants which impact air quality, health and the environment. The pollutants are: ammonia, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

This latest information shows that ammonia emissions have increased each year from 2016 to 2018. Agriculture dominates emissions of ammonia (99%), which arise from animal manures and nitrogen fertiliser. While the rate of increase has slowed over these years, Ireland is non-compliant with binding EU limits for ammonia over the period.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides - primarily from transport and diesel fuelled vehicles in particular - decreased slightly in 2018, while still being above its 2010-2019 emission limit.

Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds decreased slightly in 2018. These mostly arise  from spirit production in the food and beverage industry, animal manures and fertilisers.

There was a small increase in emissions of particulate matter, while emissions of sulphur dioxide continued on a downward trend.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of Office of Environmental Sustainability said:

“Emissions of all air pollutants need to reduce to protect air quality and health. These figures show different trends in emissions of air pollutants with ammonia emissions increasing and releases of other pollutants remaining relatively unchanged or decreasing. Ammonia emissions need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The underlying drivers are the use of animal manure and nitrogen fertilisers which can be reduced through widespread adoption of on-farm measures.”

Lower EU limits will come into effect in 2030. Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and NOx emissions are projected to reduce and to be compliant, provided planned measures – particularly in relation to the Climate Action Plan - are implemented. This depends on switching to cleaner fuels, technology improvements and a significant uptake of electric vehicles.

While full implementation of the 2019 Climate Action Plan can deliver a double benefit in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, even further measures are required to reduce NH3 and NMVOC emissions to meet future tight limits in 2030.

Stephen Treacy, EPA Senior Manager said:

“The National Clean Air Strategy, which is currently under preparation, will need to propose measures to reduce air pollutant emissions, particularly where non-compliance with the 2030 limits is projected.
The transport sector continues to be a significant source of nitrogen oxide emissions as a result of growth in the fleet of cars, vans and trucks. It is important that planned measures are implemented to reduce these emissions and decouple them from economic growth, particularly as we exit current COVID-19 related travel restrictions.”

These figures do not include the impact of COVID-19. It expected that the drop off in economic activity and travel will translate into reductions in some air pollutants, particularly nitrogen oxides, which will be evident in projections to 2030 published next year.

For further detail on these figures, see the EPA web published report Ireland’s Air Pollutant Emissions 1990-2030.

Notes to Editor

UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution
The LRTAP Convention of 1979 was the first international treaty to deal with air pollution on a broad regional basis. The 32 signatories to the Convention agreed the principles of international cooperation for air pollution abatement. The number of substances covered by the Convention and its protocols has been gradually extended over time, notably to include ground-level ozone, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals and particulate matter. Although Ireland hasn’t yet ratified the Gothenburg Protocol setting out national commitments to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone, the European Union has, and binding national emission ceilings for Ireland are specified in the EU transposition of the Protocol, the National Emissions Ceiling Directive.

National Emissions Ceiling Directive
Directive (EU) 2016/2284 (replacing 2001/81/EC) ‘on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants’ sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States and the EU for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, ammonia and fine particulate matter. The new NEC Directive, which entered into force in December 2016, sets 2020 and 2030 emission reduction commitments for five main air pollutants. It also ensures that the emission ceilings for 2010 set in the earlier directive remain applicable for Member States until the end of 2019.

Five main air pollutants

  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is the major precursor to acid deposition (including “acid rain”), which is associated with the acidification of soils and surface waters and the accelerated corrosion of buildings and monuments. Emissions of SO2 are derived from the sulphur in fossil fuels such as coal and oil used in combustion activities.
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) contribute to acidification of soils and surface waters, tropospheric ozone formation and nitrogen saturation in terrestrial ecosystems.  Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is also associated with diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Power generation plants and motor vehicles are the principal sources of nitrogen oxides, through high-temperature combustion.
  • Ammonia (NH3) emissions are associated with acid deposition and the formation of secondary particulate matter. The agriculture sector accounts for virtually all (99 per cent) of ammonia emissions in Ireland.
  • Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) are emitted as gases by a wide array of products including paints, paint strippers, glues, cleaning agents and adhesives. They also arise as a product of incomplete combustion of fuels, from the storage and handling of animal manure and fertilisers in agriculture and from spirit production.
  • Fine particulate matter (such as dust) of diameter less than 2.5µm is termed PM2.5. Sources include vehicle exhaust emissions, soil and road surfaces, construction works and industrial emissions and agriculture. Particulate matter can be formed from reactions between different pollutant gases and is responsible for significant negative impacts on human health.

Further information: Niamh Hatchell/ Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie